Settling the sins of your father: when counts lost in court

Work pressure continues to damage my great resolve to reduce backlog here, but here is a thought I first had in June of this year when dealing with Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder (it was a very fruitful read for me), that perhaps addresses that question of why we sometimes see the counts of Barcelona of the tenth century lose court cases in documents that they then preserved, which we lately debated, and which has just come up again in the work I am just about managing to do.1

Cover of Josep María Salrach's Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l'any mil (Vic 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013)

You see, of late I have trying to get a decent detailed chronology of the reign of Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona, Osona and Urgell (945/947-993) worked out. This is something you would think I had but apparently not quite enough; some interesting things are occurring to me just by realising that, oh, those two things happen sequentially, and so forth. But it has also reminded me of the details of two things that happened when he died: firstly, a number of people made bequests or donations for his soul, usually of lands or properties that they had originally got from him.2 Then, after a while, we start to hear about the opposite, people who lost land or property to him. The first of these is Bishop Sal·la of Urgell, in a curious case I discussed here long long ago, but after a few years more follow, indicating that Borrell was not always scrupulous about how he obtained property that he felt he needed. There are six of these cases all told, where despite land having been given somewhere it wound up back in the count’s hands.3 In three of these cases people had gone to law against Borrell for the properties and their right been admitted but somehow the counts never quite handed it back. Once Borrell was dead, these things could be pursued, although one of these cases comes up in 1021, so it took a long while all to work out.4 I feel this nuances Salrach’s point about the counts needing to lose some cases to make it clear to people that that could happen; losing might not cost them very much given that they were their own enforcement…

The ruins of the castle after which Castellfollit del Boix, location of the property Borrell had grabbed back, is named. By Elmoianes (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-es], via Wikimedia Commons.

The ruins of the castle after which Castellfollit del Boix, location of the property Borrell had grabbed back, is named. By Elmoianes (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-es], via Wikimedia Commons.

What interests me is the way that Borrell’s heirs handled these cases, however. This is quite different between his two sons, Ramon who succeeded him in Barcelona, Girona and Osona and Ermengol who did so in Urgell. Ramon Borrell is another of Salrach’s rulers who didn’t mind correcting himself, as we’ve seen, but he was also very happy to correct his father: we’ve seen before the case where Sant Benet de Bages took Ajó, widow of the judge Guifré, Vicar of la Néspola, to court for land that had been given to Sant Benet at its endowment (Sant Benet being a foundation of Ajó’s daddy, which also complicates things). Borrell had grabbed the land back and bestowed it upon Guifré by charter, and though Ajó had that charter Ramon Borrell’s court decided that Sant Benet’s title was better and awarded the land to the monastery.5 Last time I discussed this it was because that didn’t work, and a second hearing let her have it for life under rent to the monastery, but that hearing did not take place before a count.6 Ramon was happy to admit that his father had done wrong. Ermengol was also happy to do this but for a different reason: the two cases of this in his charters both involve fairly substantial payments by the unlucky defendant for their rights: in 1007, for example, Ermengol’s fidelis Sunyer gave him five denarii and a horse so that Ermengol would remit to him an alod in Solsona for part of which Sunyer had already taken Borrell to court and won, for all the good it apparently did him.7 Ermengol, who is also the best-documented recipient of a payment for simony I know, seems mainly to have offered justice at a price. Two years later, indeed, Ermengol made his will and there gave back to Santa Maria d’Urgell the villa of Tuixén which Borrell had bequeathed to the cathedral in his will, so the two brothers obviously learnt different things from their father’s examples…8

The village of Tuixén

The selfsame villa of Tuixént, as it is now spelt. By Jordi Picart (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

What all this makes me think of is the efforts that Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious, the second Holy Roman Emperor, made to demonstrate that his succession in 814 meant a change of régime: most of Charlemagbne’s courtiers were chased out, all Louis’s sisters put into nunneries and some of his male relatives tonsured too, and (we are told, though it was obviously not wholly true) all of Charlemagne’s charters called in and replaced. There was also a set of judicial enquiries set in train to clear up hanging cases like those we just looked at where justice had not in fact been done.9 One of the Catalan counts in fact did the charter replacement too, or so we are told, and again the survival makes this look unlikely but the fact that it was said is impressive.10 I guess that there was some important political capital to be made when a long-lived ruler died in reaching out to the people who had become his enemies and whom he had excluded from access to central power; by calling Daddy’s decisions into question you could tell those people that the situation was up for renegotiation and hope to bring them on board without necessarily having to go quite as far as did Louis in getting rid of the old guard.

Maquette in the abbey church of Corbie of the abbey church of Corbie (1810)

Mind you, there were worse places to wind up than where two of Louis’s cousins did, the abbey of Corbie, here delightfully represented by a maquette of the modern church as in 1810 inside the modern church as of this century. By Paulparis2010 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

This model is quite easy to find once you start looking, and I suspect it explains quite a few of Salrach’s cases where the counts let themselves be seen to lose; it was not they who lost, but the grip of their father. And if you think back to the Vallformosa case we discussed a few posts ago and have such trouble explaining, you’ll notice that the same thing is going on there: Borrell was pursuing rights that his father had claimed, exactly thirty years after his father had died when it cannot, legally, have had a chance of working out because of the legal limit on unpursued claims in the local law. Was the point to show that his father’s claims were not always just? I think, in this case, probably not, because Borrell had been willing to outright say as much when it must have counted a good deal more, just after his succession; but the tools he was using could be put to that purpose, and his sons were good learners.11 There is stuff I still have to work out here but I do think that dealing with succession to the successful, and perhaps still more to the unsuccessful (which is arguably more how Borrell was seen, after the sack of Barcelona in 98512) is part of what was going on with these cases of comital defeat.

1. J. M. Salrach, Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013), pp. 109-118.

2. For example, Argemir and Major giving land they had from him at Castelltallat to Sant Benet de Bages in 995 (Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1705, or no less than Count Bernat Tallaferro of Besalú and his wife Tota giving with the church of Santa Maria de Merlès, built on land he got from Borrell, to Santa Maria de Ripoll in 997 (Petrus de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniae, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. Étienne Baluze (Paris 1688; repr. Barcelona 1972, 1989), ap. CXLV.

3. In order, Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis hist&orave;rics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, doc. no. 239; Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 1840 & 1864; Baraut, “Documents, dels anys 981-1010”, doc. no. 286; Baraut (ed.), “Diplomatari del monestir de Sant Sadurní de Tavèrnoles (segles IX-XIII)” in Urgellia Vol. 12 (1995), pp. 7-414, doc. no. 35; José Rius Serra (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés Vol. II (Barcelona 1946), doc. no. 454; Gaspar Feliu & Salrach (edd.), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 154.

4. The law cases are Baraut, “Tavèrnoles”, no. 35, Rius, Sant Cugat doc. no. 454 and Feliu & Salrach, Pergamins, doc. no. 154, the last being the 1021 one.

5. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1840.

6. Ibid. doc. no. 1864.

7. Baraut, “Tavèrnoles”, doc. no. 35.

8. Baraut, “Documents”, doc. no. 300. Even then, Ermengol I still forgot to actually get the bequest carried out and Bishop Ermengol (no relation) had to take Ermengol I’s son Ermengol II (obviously more related) to court for it in Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels anys 1010-1035, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia Vol. 4 (Montserrat 1981), pp. 7-186, doc. no. 528. Nor was that the first time the comital family had grabbed back Tuixén just after it had been given away; I’m not quite sure why they kept letting it go…

9. Recorded in Thegan, Gesta Hludowici imperatoris, ed. E. Tremp in idem (ed.), Thegan, Die Taten Kaiser Ludwigs (Gesta Hludowici imperatoris). Astronomus, Das Leben Kaiser Ludwigs (Vita Hludowici imperatoris), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi) LXIV (Hannover 1995), online here, last modified 8 November 2004 as of 30 May 2008, pp. 167-277 with commentary pp. 1-52, cap. X.

10. Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, S. Riera i Viader & Manuel Rovira i Solà (edd.), Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LXI (Barcelona 2005), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, 2 vols, doc. no. 288.

11. That more extreme case is the appointment of a replacement for his father Sunyer’s nominee as abbess of Sant Joan de Ripoll, recounted in Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 645.

12. Gaspar Feliu, La Presa de Barcelona per Almansor: història i mitificació. Discurs de recepció de Gaspar Feliu i Montfort com a membre numerari de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica, llegit el dia 12 de desembre de 2007 (Barcelona 2007), online here, last modified 15 September 2008 as of 3 November 2008.

One response to “Settling the sins of your father: when counts lost in court

  1. Pingback: Sometimes justice really was blind | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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